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Monthly Archive: December 2001

Monday, December 31, 2001

Monday, December 31, 2001
2001: Space, Headless Goats, and Optimism

What an inauspicious year for us "space age" kids, huh?

I remember the night after I came home from seeing '2001: A Space Odyssey' for the first time. I was a breathless star gazing 13-year-old. I knew all of the names of the Mercury astronauts, their missions, and spacecraft designations. I could recite the names of most of the Gemini astronauts, and knew all about the Apollo program, which was just then getting off the ground after the Apollo I tragedy. I still think of Grissom, Chaffee, and White as my all-time heroes.

I rushed upstairs to my room, threw open the curtains and brought out my precious books on space exploration and planetary science. I did not own a telescope, but the skies over Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan always seemed able to accommodate me with a breathtaking dome filled with stars, planets, and meteors.

Hidden within the pages of my copy of "LIFE: Space" (a birthday gift from a family friend) lay a secret paper where I scribbled my predictions for the future. I limited myself to what I imagined were plausible accomplishments and developments within my lifetime - notions taken from my books, fused with my own brand of science fantasy. But at that one amazing moment, I had a new frame of reference to work with and I spent most of that night recalibrating my predictions to conform with what I had seen in in the film: space stations, passenger space shuttles, moon buses. I had proof that it was possible - I had seen it with my own eyes.

Sadly, thirty-three years later and I find that none of my predictions came true. For one thing, I had misjudged the momentum of the U.S. space program, but I had also seriously misjudged humankind. Even as I wrote my predictions, I knew that many of my ideas had little chance for success. I was braced for disappointment, but not to this degree: the Eagle had landed and Tranquility Base was open for business, but nobody came back.

The other day it all came to me why I failed so miserably as a futurist. I was reading a news entry in Wordfeed from CNN when I learned about a game called "buzkashi." It seems that after a five-year hiatus, the Afghan people have renewed their interest in this ancient pastime. Literally translated, its name means 'to take away the goat' - a headless goat.

According to CNN, the game is played between two teams made up of men and boys who fight over the body of a headless goat. To score points, the players of one team must carry the carcass around a flag and drop it into a circle while the opposing team does their dead level best to stop them. Apparently, they've been playing this game for the better part of 500 years - and the anthropologist in me rejoices at the contrasts, but what happened to the space stations wheeling over the stratosphere, flying cars threading between mile high skyscrapers, and spaceships soaring though the solar system?

Please don't misunderstand me. It is a celebration for all people everywhere when a downtrodden, desperate, and soil poor people regain their right to play whatever game they want, even 'take away the goat'. God knows, the whole world is suffering the heavy travails of this year, but I don't know whether to cry or to rejoice at this little victory of the Afghani people. Surely, this isn't all there is, is it?

The history of humankind, it seems, is rife with such disappointments, but the true measure of our character is how we continue. Do we become moribund over the loss of dreams and forgotten goals? Shall we withdraw into what remains of wilderness and chew on the fat of beasts? Of course not. While setbacks of the adult world may sap our strength, a child's mind replenishes it with abundant optimism. Hope reigns high in even the worst conditions and situations. Hope can heft lofty visions such as those depicted in "2001" or help restore a people to the simple pleasure of an ancient and bizarre sport.

So, at the close of this once valued milestone of my childhood dreams, I shall dream some more and hope for a brighter future - one adorned with flying cars and all - for I have found that optimism is not only a place for dreams, it is the light at the end of the tunnel urging us to endure the journey. -HP

"For 2001: I predict that in 2001 there will be manned exploration of the whole solar system, a space station at the Earth-Luna LaGrange point, Lunar science bases, Mars colonies, and deep space exploration. I predict that we will stop war and make drugs that can cure all diseases. There will be ion drive spacecraft engines, fusion power, batteries that last 100 years, smart robots, and flying cars..."
Signed, RCW,JR, November 28, 1968

2001: A Space Odyssey Internet Archive
Warner Bros' Re-Release Schedule
Alan Shepard blasts off in the Friendship 7 spacecraft
The Return of Buzkashi - from CNN

Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Wednesday, December 26, 2001
The Chestnut Roast

You may have heard Perry Como (et al) croon over the long tradition of chestnuts roasting over an open fire, but did you know that by the time I heard that song (in the mid-60s) it was an all but forgotten tradition among American families?

My dad told me once that when he was a kid, his dad served his own recipe for roasted chestnuts. I regret to report that that recipe is forever lost. I ate my first roasted chestnut while living in Japan as a child (I'm an AF brat). Kachiguri (dried chestnuts) are a delicacy in Japan. There's even a children's song about a young 'kuri' rolling down a hill.

Well, so much for American traditions.

The sad story is that the American chestnut was - next to hemp and cotton - a most prolific agricultural product. According to the American Chestnut Foundation, there was "one chestnut for every four oaks, birches, maples and other hardwoods." However, over logging and the introduction of a lethal fungus felled the American chestnut forests - en masse. The variety practically disappeared from the continent by the 1920s (a whole 40 years before I ever saw one).

I had hoped to rekindle my interest in that noble nut by adding it to my stuffing recipe for this year's family Christmas dinner. The stuffing, I am happy to say, was a real hit. Even my 9-year-old nephew savored the soft and not-to-sweet texture of the chestnuts my wife and I baked and peeled the day before which wasn't fun, Ill tell you now.

Did you know that there's practically no such thing as pre-peeled chestnuts (no, not water chestnuts, REAL chestnuts). The alternative was to do it the old fashioned way which left both our hands badly cut and blistered (we peeled damn near two pounds of chestnuts!).

Wouldn't you know that there are alternatives; ones that I still can't believe that I missed because I was remiss in checking the net for recipes. So, allow me to save you the effort:

First, buy fresh chestnuts (very important) - sort them out in the store and discard those with small holes or mold on the shell. Store fresh chestnuts in a plastic bag with a few ventilation holes punched in it. Place the bag in the lower 'veggie' tray of your refrigerator.

Second, pick the way you want to cook them. To Roast: over an open fire, use a long handled popcorn popper or chestnut roaster; in an oven, try a temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. WARNING: before cooking, puncture each nut once or twice with an ice pick or a knife. I cut an 'x' in each nut which seemed to make peeling a bit easier. If you fail to do this, pressure from the steam that may build up inside the shells will cause them to explode and being hit by a sizzling shard of chestnut husk is something to be avoided at all costs. My cat will never be the same.

To Boil: place them in a shallow pan with water that just covers them. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and boil gently for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and partially cool, then remove the kernels using a sharp tine of a table fork. The longer the nuts cook, the mealier the kernels become and tend to crumble when removed from the shells. For especially dry chestnuts, soak them overnight in water before boiling in fresh water.

To Steam: carefully cut fresh, moist chestnuts in half and cook them in a vegetable steamer over boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Most kernels should fall out of the shells during cooking. Steamed or boiled nuts can be dipped in melted butter and salted, if desired, or used in other recipes.

You can store cooked chestnuts in the refrigerator for a month or two or in the freezer for up to a year. Here are some useful sites:

The American Chestnut Foundation

American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation

Order Chestnuts Online - from Earthly Delights

Tuesday, December 4, 2001

Tuesday, December 4, 2001
Cyber Terrorism - What are YOU Doing to Prevent It?

Just to keep the pot stirring whilst I work on v4.0 (and some better things to say), I thought Id drop a nickel into the cyber terriorism opinion bucket [klink].

I have been receiving email from various people I do not know - blank 're:' and the email address is modified with an underscore before the name. I have checked McAfee and Norton and have not found a virus entry that matches these symptoms. I have emailed these folks and a few have responded - it seems nobody really knows why this is going on and everybody claims that their machine is not the culprit (actually, a few suggest that Im to blame). No doubt, somebody knows what the hell is going on, so please email me if you know something I don't know (no, it's not 'goner').

Like other things that have hit us full force and in the face recently, it is clear that the Internet is not the peaceful place it once was. Innocuous email from a friend can be a prelude to disaster. Visiting a seemingly innocent site can tag your computer for future attacks. Much of the spam we receive is designed to entice and invade our computers ('come on in', said the spider to the fly). Moreover, if you use DSL or cable for access, your potential for trouble only multiplies.

I have instituted some rather Draconian limitations on friends who can forward email to me - some get a little upset when I gently ask them not to send forwards, but they get over it. Also, ask before you send me any attachments. Unwanted attachments do two things: it causes me to spend time downloading a file that I didn't ask for and it compromises my security. I also limit my own activities - first of all, I stopped forwarding jokes and what-not, it only encourages habitual forwarders. I do not visit spammed sites - particularly porn spam - because many of these sites can (and do) open the door to other types of cyber invasions (I have enough problems controlling cookies I get from 'legitimate' sites). You can control most threats without buying one piece of software or service. One simply makes a decision to be proactive and defensive, and most of the virus threat evaporates.

Here are a few other things you can do to improve security:

First, get a firewall particularly if you have DSL or cable. Im not going to go into the reasons why and if this is the first time youve heard this warning, then I suggest two things: (1) turn off your computer and (2) read some literature on the subject before you turn it back on. ZoneAlarm is free and downloadable, and it is a good safeguard against common types of attacks - it is recommended by nearly every reviewer and network tech I have talked to. I have been using it for about a year and just purchased the 'Pro' version with a nifty add-on tool called PestPatrol.

Second, get serious about your anti-virus software NOW. I suggest, as do most experienced computer users, either McAfee or Norton. Once you get it, keep the virus table updated DAILY. I use McAfee VirusScan Online - an ASP model that keeps the tables updated every day and uses services online for scans. If you don't do this, then don't complain WHEN your computer is attacked.

Third, if you have DSL or cable, go to this site: DSL Reports. Sign up and click DSLR TOOLS. There you will find various self-explanatory tests and software tools that will help tweak your system for optimal online use and check to see if you are vulnerable to crackers and hackers.

Fourth, reboot your DSL log-on often. Most DSL services assign IP addresses dynamically - and this IP address is specific to your computer. Some, not all, crackers and hackers scan for computers that are vulnerable and have fairly reliable IP addresses (e.g., vulnerable computers that have been online for more than 48 hours). If you reboot your access once every day then you will effectively eliminate your computer from any list of 'reliable' machines.

Fifth, better than #4 above, turn off your computer at night. I used to leave my machines on all night to save wear and tear on the hard drive from cold starts each day. However, unless you have an iron-clad firewall that can stop ANY hacker attack (btw, nobody has one), then you could lose what's on your hard drive AND your pride.

It's a nasty world out there - be vigilant.

Oh, and one last note - Gasoline Opinions just doesn't work for me. I came up with another name though: "Heavy At Large" - but I'm not certain what the photo ought to be.

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